Dr. Patricia Farrell on Medika Life

Memory-Mind-Muscles, the Stunning Formula For Your Brain’s Functioning

Too often, exercise is chalked off as keeping our bodies in good shape, but there is another connection about which few know, and that's our minds.

Every step you take and every move you make helps you in ways few of us ever considered, and new research is expanding our realization of exercise’s importance. No, it’s not confined to toned legs, flat abs, or any other desirable physical attribute. There’s more here than meets the eye; its secret is the hidden connections between memory, cognition, and decision-making across the lifespan.

Dementia has many causes, and if we want to optimize our chances of avoiding it, we need to re-consider what we might do to achieve that goal. There is also decreased cognition in persons with MS, and they have been included in trials of exercise and cognition, Graded Exercise Training (GET) Smart trial.

Healthy aging may aid us in our determination to maintain our cognitive (thinking processes) activities, but there remains a verified relationship between decreased cognition and normal aging. Neuroimaging studies of the brain have indicated that changes in brain size occur in mid-adulthood and may start as early as the 20s, with increased advances at about 5% per decade beginning at age 40.

Biochemically, outlined in much of the research, there seems to be a change in the potential for our body’s neurotransmitters to assist in our body’s retaining brain cell functioning, which may be directly related to our body’s exercise practices. In fact our body may benefit from what is known as brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF) as well as neurotransmitters and that can benefit from a regular course of exercise. Why are we interested in BDNF?

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is one of the…factors that support differentiation , maturation, and survival of neurons in the nervous system and shows a neuroprotective effect under adverse conditions. If we can retain our ability to produce this vital factor, we are ahead of the game when it comes to a variety of negative events affecting our brain’s ability to remain active and to repair itself when needed.

A review of aerobic exercise has indicated that exercise may slow down age-related cognitive decline. Further exploration of 68 studies related to cognitive decline and exercise produced evidence that not only does physical exercise provide added cardiovascular and fitness benefits, it also may have potential to slow the progression of cognitive decline in any persons with mild cognitive impairments.

Increasing numbers of persons will continue to experience cognitive decline not merely by advancing age, but brain injury or disease which can lead to dementia as well as a progressive cognitive global decline in memory and executive functioning due to illness. Might Covid-19 brain fog patients derive benefit from an exercise program? I haven’t seen literature on that yet.

Currently, although over 400 clinical trials have been initiated in the area of cognitive decline, specifically Alzheimer’s disease, the results have not yet proven to be what we would wish. In addition, the yearly cost of pharmaceutical products that promise some improvement or suppression of cognitive decline has been disappointing and hugely expensive with one drug being priced over $100K/yr. The expense would place these medication’s beyond the reach of the millions worldwide who will require them in the coming decades.

In light of these disappointing research explorations, we must begin to consider low cost, side-effect free methods that, when applied on a regular basis, may either delay or slow cognitive decline. The current non-pharmaceutical interventions include cognitive and behavioral training, diet, socialization, music therapy and physical exercise.

The literature has found that not only is physical exercise (PA) exercise beneficial in early life, it has obvious advantages later in life.

PA in early- and mid-adulthood independently predicted higher initial memory level and slower memory decline in later life, respectively. Early-adulthood PA was indirectly associated with later-life memory level through higher mid-adulthood PA and lower rates of later-life hypertension, as well as with subsequent memory decline through higher mid-adulthood PA.

The conclusion, therefore, is that exercising in early or mid-adulthood provides us with a degree of protection for our later life cognitive health in addition to other health factors.

Which types of training might prove to be most effective in retaining cognitive processing or slowing down the age-related decline? A number of psychological tests have been included in the research to evaluate changes in cognition in several different physical exercise groups including resistance training, high intensity aerobic interval training, and moderate continuous aerobic training.

In one study the high intensive aerobic interval training group showed significant improvement in both reaction time and information processing. Also, the moderate continuous aerobic training group, likewise, showed significant improvement in executive cognitive tasks but the high intensity of group had the largest significant increase in terms of physical functioning.

Overall, the researchers found that moderate continuous aerobic training and resistance training proved to be superior to the high intensity training regime for older individuals in terms of their cognitive executive functioning.

The path forward is clear, physical exercise in any form that is comfortable, is beneficial later in life or currently. PA not only helps us maintain our physical mobility and health, it aids in forestalling cognitive decline and keeping that BDNF available to us when we need it.

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Pat Farrell PhD
Pat Farrell PhDhttps://medium.com/@drpatfarrell
I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.


Medika Editor: Mental Health

I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

Patricia also acts in an editorial capacity for Medika's mental health articles, providing invaluable input on a wide range of mental health issues.

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